Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg started an India visit on Thursday with an aim to link India’s pressing needs for development with his own ambitious plan to lift up hundreds of millions of people above the digital poverty line – and in the process build a huge market for his social network that made him a billionaire when he was only 23.
“People do need food, clothing, health and toilets,” the 30-year-old told a news conference. “Internet is an enabler of all these things. Nobody is going to say the internet is more important than food or clean water.”
Zuckerberg, due to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, was asked about the leader’s Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Movement) and his meeting. “I am interested in learning how we can help. I am going to be listening,” he said of the meeting, saying the common interest was in Modi’s “Digital India” initiative.
He focused largely on his pet plan to bridge the digital divide, and said free “basic internet services” that demonstrate the utility of the information network would help millions discover the internet because they do not know how it would benefit them.
Facebook’s plan is to engage with telecom operators in countries such as the Philippines, Tanzania and Paraguay to test free Internet-based information services and then bring them to India. It is important to make such ventures profitable for telecom service providers, Zuckerberg said.
Asked about concerns on privacy in which Facebook is often used of intruding into the affairs of its users through its technology driven market research, Zuckerberg said his company believed in making products that are tweaked and modified on the basis of feedback from users.
“We have empathy for all cultures,” he said.